– By Chris Carmichael –
After every stage of the Tour de France, the man in the yellow jersey has to fulfill a number of time-consuming responsibilities. First he has to report to doping control to give a urine sample, along with the winner of the stage and a few “randomly” selected riders. That’s followed by the podium presentations so the press and the fans can see him accept another yellow jersey and kiss the podium girls. And after that there’s often a short press conference to recount the day’s events. All together, it can take up to an hour for the race leader to leave the finish area and start the journey to the team’s hotel.
Another chance to kiss the podium girls is never a bad thing, but all those post-race commitments can delay a rider’s recovery signficantly.
On mountain stages with summit finishes, getting to the hotel can be quite difficult. As soon as the race is over, all the fans who lined the route start heading down the narrow mountain pass at the same time. The congestion is terrible, and often it can take the team busses up to two hours to get to the hotels. This is why a lot of riders opt to ride their bikes down the mountain instead. Unfortunately, that can be the most dangerous descent of the day for the riders, and in the Alps, Patrick Sinkewitz of the T-Mobile team collided on his way down to the team’s hotel when he struck a fan. The accident caused serious facial injuries for Sinkewitz and sent the fan to the hospital in a coma.
One of the benefits to being the race leader is the opportunity to take a helicopter from the top of the summit finishes, or at least it was that way when Lance was racing. Yet, even with the helicopter ride, it can take 90 minutes or more for the yellow jersey to reach his hotel.
The yellow jersey’s post-stage responsibilities can have a serious impact on his recovery. It’s critical that riders start replenishing depleted carbohydrate stores, fluids, and electrolytes as soon as possible after they get off their bikes, as the body is primed to absorb these items most quickly within the first 60 minutes after exercise. This is where experience and good planning are huge advantages. Teams that expect to face this situation put plans in place which ensure that there’s a recovery drink, food, fluids, and plenty of dry clothing available. Inexperienced riders sometimes get caught up in the excitement of winning a stage or taking the yellow jersey – which is understandable – and fail to adequately take care of the recovery routines that are necessary for a successful race the next day.
Once back at the hotel, the yellow jersey can finally start to wind down from the day. In the old days, fans could easily gain entry to the teams’ hotels, but in recent years the hotels have become more of a safe haven from reporters and autograph-seekers.
Simply having the yellow jersey is stressful for any rider, and the attention from race officials, the press, and fans just adds to it. Learning to handle these pressures is part of the process of growing into a champion, and it starts when athletes win smaller one-day events and short stage races. Tour de France champions make it look easy, but learning to deal with the pressures of leading the biggest cycling race in the world takes time. And it’s part of the reason that the average age of a Tour champion is 29 years old.
• Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ 9+3 Coaching Offer, the Do the Tour…Stay at Home_ audio workouts with Lance Armstrong, and our free Tour de France Newsletter, visit TrainRight.com.